In September 2011, two months after the devastating anti-government protests in Malawi which left 19 people dead and in the midst of a violent and coordinated crackdown on political critics, a young student activist, Robert Chasowa was found dead on his university campus. Police ruled the death a suicide, but his family, friends and fellow activists believed that the injuries Chasowa suffered were inconsistent with a suicide and instead pointed to murder – one which they believed was politically motivated. However the political climate under former President Bingu wa Mutharika which imposed a veil of secrecy and oppression of dissent meant there was little chance of the truth emerging and those responsible being brought to justice.   

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Malawi’s president, Joyce Banda, continues to impress. See the latest press release from African civil society organisations regarding Malawi’s decision not to host the AU Summit. The Summit will now be hosted at the AU Headquarters in Ethiopia, which is not a Rome Statute signatory.

(Johannesburg, June 8, 2012) –The Malawi government showed strong support for victims of international crimes by deciding not to be the host of the African Union (AU) summit if President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan is allowed to attend, African civil society organizations and international organizations with a presence in Africa said today.

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With just over two months before the 19th African Union Summit kicks off in Malawi, it is being asked whether Malawi will allow indicted Sudanese president, Omar Al-Bashir, to attend the Summit. It has been reported that Africa’s newest president, Joyce Banda, does not want to host Bashir and has asked the AU to encourage Sudan to send someone else in his place. This decision, at least on the face of it, is positive and certainly the right thing to do.  The way in which she is handling the issue however, is perhaps not what one would expect from an African leader that has, in a very short space of time, proved herself to be a no-nonsense and forward thinking president.

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SALC’s participation at the African Commission’s 51st Ordinary Session was both an enriching and fruitful experience. Diverse issues on human rights and democracy were discussed at both the NGO Forum and African Commission’s session. SALC was represented at the NGO Forum, at meetings on the side-lines and during the African Commission’s public session.  The highlights of the session were SALC’s election as the SADC Focal point at the NGO Forum, organising an African Court meeting jointly with the African Court Coalition and submitting a statement on Malawi during the African Commission public session as well as supporting a joint statement relating to conditions of pre-trial detention. 

Official Opening

The African Commission’s 51st ordinary session kicked off in Banjul, the Gambia on the 18th of April and ends on the 2nd of May 2012. The session took place at a time when there is turmoil in some African states. In Mali and Guinea Bissau, soldiers staged coup d’états in violation of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance as well as the Constitutive Act of the African Union.  The internecine conflict between Sudan and Southern Sudan continues unabated. The spectre of terrorism still haunts the Republic of Nigeria as Malawi and Swaziland suppress popular participation by citizens.  Read the rest of this entry »

Last year SALC secured bail for a seriously ill prisoner in the case of Mphembedzu v The Republic MHC Bail Case No. 70 of 2011. This case sought to profile health issues in the prison population in Malawi and the bail rights afforded to detainees suffering ill-health. The case concerned the arrest of a 15-year-old boy, Mr Mphembedzu, on suspicion of homicide in 2007. For the last four years he has been remanded at Bvumbwe prison while he awaits trial.  Mr Mphembedzu is seriously if not terminally ill after contracting his illness during his imprisonment. A written judgment in this matter was only delivered in 2012. Although the judgment secured the release of Mr Mphembedzu, the precedential value of the case is to an extent diluted by the judge’s failure to engage with the issues that were before him.

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The new President of Malawi, Joyce Banda, has demonstrated in her first week in charge that her administration will be vastly different to her predecessor’s.  Bingu wa Mutharika had been in power in Malawi since 2004 but his death on 5 April 2012 came in the wake of increased opposition to his leadership and the culture of violent oppression of dissent that he had presided over in the recent past.  Although President Banda appears to have recommitted Malawi to democracy and the rule of law, SALC today wrote to the new president highlighting some of the most pressing matters needing her attention.

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Since the 9 January 2012 administrative staff from the Ministry of Justice have been on strike in Malawi. At issue is a government promise almost five years ago to grant them a 50 % salary increase which has never been fulfilled. They are also demanding that members of the judicial system be treated in the same manner as other civil servants in that their salaries should be reviewed every year and not every third year and that they must be paid their arrear wages before they return to work. They have vowed to continue to strike until their demands are met arguing that in 2008 they embarked on a similar strike  but cancelled that strike after three days when government officials promised to review their grievances. Read the rest of this entry »

Malawi’s Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) has complained that the media in the country is struggling to access information on mining because the players involved are reluctant to release it. CHRR’s Communications Officer Luke Tembo said the challenge is affecting the media’s efforts to relay relevant information that can help uplift the mining sector. He said this during CHRR’s journalists’ orientation in Mzuzu on how they can access mining information from various stakeholders in Malawi. Check out the news report here.

Check out the piece John Githongo, Kenya’s permanent secretary for governance and ethics from 2003 to 2005 wrote, pointing out how economic growth and the continuing disparity of wealth fueled the Arab revolutions. He applies this to sub-saharan Africa pointing out that given economic growth in the region we are starting to see the germination of the Arab revolution migrating south. Looking at what is happening in Malawi at the moment through this lens, he seems to have a point.

Last week, two of SALC partners, Gift Trapence the Director of the Centre for the Development of People and Undule Mwakasungura, the head of the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation were under direct threat for their role in the 20 July protests and their general questioning of President Bingu wa Mutharika’s dictatorial actions.  They had both been threatened by name by President Mutharika. They are both safe at the moment, but President Mutharika does not seem close to backing off.

You can read the letter here.